History of the Pirates Who Infested the China Sea From 1807 to 1810

History of the Pirates Who Infested the China Sea From 1807 to 1810

Yung-lun Yüan
Yung-lun Yüan

Author: Yüan, Yung-lun
Pirates — China Sea
History of the Pirates Who Infested the China Sea From 1807 to 1810
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From 1807 to 1810.






And Sold by






Printed by J. L. Cox, Great Queen Street,
Lincoln’s-Inn Fields




Conquerors are deemed successful robbers, while robbers are unsuccessful conquerors. If the founder of the dynasty of the Ming had failed in his rebellion against the Moguls, history would have called him a robber; and if any one of the various robber-chiefs, who in the course of the two last centuries made war against the reigning Manchow, had overthrown the government of the foreigners, the official historiographers of the “Middle empire” would have called him the far-famed, illustrious elder father of the new dynasty.

Robbers or pirates are usually ignorant of the principles concerning human society. They are not aware that power is derived from the people for the general advantage, and that when it is abused to a certain extent, all means of redress resorted to are legitimate. But they feel most violently the abuse of power. The fruit of labour is too often taken out of their hands, justice sold for money, and nothing is safe from their rapacious and luxurious masters. People arise to oppose, and act according to the philosophical principles of human society, without having any clear idea about them. Robbers and pirates are, in fact, the opposition party in the despotical empires of the East; and their history is far more interesting than that of the reigning despot.[1] The sameness which is to be observed in the history of all Asiatic governments, presents a great difficulty to any historian who wishes to write a history of any nation in Asia for the general reader.
The history of the transactions between Europeans and the Chinese is intimately connected with that of the pirate chiefs who appeared from time to time in the Chinese Sea, or Southern Ocean. The Europeans themselves, at their first appearance in the middle empire, only became known as pirates. Simon de Andrada, the first Portuguese who (1521) tried to establish any regular trade with China, committed violence against the merchants, and bought young Chinese to use them as slaves; and it is known that it was the policy of the civilized foreigners from the “Great Western Ocean” (which is the Chinese name for Europe) to decry their competitors in trade as pirates and outlaws.
The footing which Europeans and Americans now enjoy in China, originated from the assistance given by the Portuguese to the Manchow against the Patriots, otherwise called pirates, who would not submit to the sway of foreigners. Macao, the only residence (or large prison) in which foreigners are shut up, is not considered by the Chinese Government as belonging exclusively to the Portuguese. The Dutch, on not being allowed to remain in Macao, complained to the Chinese Government, and the authorities of the middle empire commanded the Portuguese to grant houses to the newly arrived Holan or Hollander, “since Macao was to be considered as the abode of all foreigners trading with China.” The edicts concerning this transaction are stated to be now in the archives of the Dutch factory at Macao.
It is one of the most interesting facts in the history of the Chinese empire, that the various barbarous tribes, who subdued either the whole or a part of this singular country, were themselves ultimately subdued by the peculiar civilization of their subjects. The Kitans, Moguls, and Manchow, became, in the course of time, Chinese people; like the Ostro, and Visigoths, and Longobards—Romans. But we may remark, that both the Chinese and the Roman civilization under the Emperors recommended itself to the conquerors, as connected with a despotism which particularly suited the views of the conquerors. Though this large division of the human race, which we are accustomed to call Tatars, never felt a spark of that liberty which everywhere animated the various German nations and tribes, and the Khakhans, in consequence of this, were not in need of any foreign policy to enslave their compatriots; yet it may be said, that neither Moguls nor Manchow were able to establish a despotic form of government which worked so well for a large nation as that of the Chinese.
The extremes of both despotism and democracy acknowledge no intermediary power or rank. The sovereign is the vice-regent of heaven, and all in all; he is the only rule of right and wrong, and commands both what shall be done in this world and thought of concerning the next. It may be easily imagined, that the Jesuits, on their first arrival in China, were delighted with such a perfect specimen of government according to their political sentiments. They tried all that human power could command to succeed in the conversion of this worldly paradise. The fathers disguised themselves as astronomers, watchmakers, painters, musicians, and engineers.[2] They forged inscriptions[3] and invented miracles, and almost went to the extent of canonizing Confucius. But this cunning deference to Chinese customs involved the Jesuits in a dispute with their more pious but less prudent competitors; and notwithstanding all the cleverness of the Jesuits, the Chinese saw at last, that in becoming Roman Catholic Christians they must cease to be Chinese, and obey a foreign sovereign in the Great Western Ocean. Toland affirms, that the Chinese and the Irish, in the time of their heathen monarch Laogirius, were the only nations in which religious persecutions never existed;[4] this praise now refers exclusively to Ireland. Roman Catholicism is at this moment nearly extinguished in China. To become a Christian is considered high-treason, and the only Roman Catholic priest at Canton at the present time, is compelled to hide himself under the mask of shopkeeper. In their successful times, during the seventeenth century, the Roman Catholic Missionaries published in Europe, that no nation was more virtuous, nor any government more enlightened than that of the Chinese; these false eulogies were the source of that high opinion in which the Chinese were formerly held in Europe.
The merchants and adventurers who came to China “to make money” found both the government and people widely different from descriptions given by the Jesuits. They found that the Chinese officers of government, commonly called Mandarins, would think themselves defiled by the least intercourse with foreigners, particularly merchants; and that the laws are often interpreted quite differently before and after receiving bribes. The Europeans were proud of their civilization and cleverness in mercantile transactions, and considered the inhabitants of all the other parts of the world as barbarians; but they found, to their astonishment and disappointment, the Chinese still more proud and cunning. We may easily presume that these deluded merchants became very irritated, and in their anger they reported to their countrymen in Europe that the Chinese were the most treacherous and abandoned people in the world,[5] that “they were only a peculiar race of savages,” and required to be chastised in one way or another; which would certainly be very easy. Commodore Anson, with a single weather-beaten sixty-gun ship, in fact, set the whole power of the Chinese Government at defiance.
The Translator of the History of the Pirates ventures to affirm, that the Chinese system of government is by far the best that ever existed in Asia; not excepting any of the different monarchies founded by the followers of Alexander, the government of the Roman Prætors and of Byzantine Dukes, or that of Christian Kings and Barons who reigned in various parts of the East during the middle ages. The principles of Chinese government are those of virtue and justice; but they are greatly corrupted by the passions and vices of men. The greater part of their laws are good and just, though the practice is often bad; but unfortunately this is generally not known to the “Son of Heaven.” It is the interest of the Emperor to deal out justice to the lowest of his subjects; but, supposing it were possible that one man could manage the government of such an immense empire, who either could or would dare to denounce every vicious or unjust act of the officers employed by government? The Chinese themselves are a clever shrewd sort of people; deceit and falsehood are, perhaps, more generally found in the “flowery empire” than any where else; but take them all in all, they rank high in the scale of nations, and the generality of the people seem to be quite satisfied with their government; they may wish for a change of masters, but certainly not for an entire change of the system of government.
There has existed for a long period, and still exists, a powerful party in the Chinese Empire, which is against the dominion of the Manchow; the different mountainous tribes maintain, even now, in the interior of China, a certain independence of the Tay tsing dynasty. The Meao tsze, who were in Canton some years ago, stated, with a proud feeling, that they were Ming jin, people of Ming; the title of the native sovereigns of China before the conquest of the Manchow. It is said, that the whole disaffected party is united in a society—generally called the Triade-Union—and that they aimed at the overthrow of the Tatars, particularly under the weak government of the late Emperor; but the rebels totally failed in their object both by sea and land.
It has been falsely reported in Europe, that it is not allowed by the laws of China to publish the transactions of the reigning dynasty. It is true that the history written by the official or imperial historians is not published; but there is no statute which prohibits other persons from writing the occurrences of their times. It may be easily imagined that such authors will take especial care not to state any thing which may be offensive to persons in power. There is, however, no official court in China to regulate the course of the human understanding, there is nothing like that tribunal which in the greater part of the Continent of Europe is called the Censorship. Fear alone is quite sufficient to check the rising spirits of the liberals in the middle empire. The reader, therefore, should not expect that either the author of the “History of the Rebellions in the Interior of China,” or the writer of the “Pacification of the Pirates,” would presume to state that persons whom government is pleased to style robbers and pirates, are in reality enemies of the present dynasty; neither would they state that government, not being able to quell these rebellions, are compelled to give large recompenses to the different chiefs who submit. These facts are scarcely hinted at in the Chinese histories. The government officers are usually delineated as the most excellent men in the world. When they run away, they know before-hand that fighting will avail nothing; and when they pardon, they are not said to be compelled by necessity, but it is described as an act of heavenly virtue! From what we learn by the statements of a Chinese executioner, we should be led to form a bad opinion of the veracity of these historians, and the heavenly virtue of their government; for it is said, that one Chinese executioner beheaded a thousand pirates in one year.[6]
The author of the following work is a certain Yung lun yuen, called Jang sëen,[7] a native of the city or market town Shun tih, eighty le southerly from Canton. The great number of proper names, of persons and places, to be found in the “History of the Pacification of the Pirates,” together with the nicknames and thieves’ slang employed by the followers of Ching yĭh, presented peculiar difficulties in the translation of Yuen’s publication. The work was published in November 1830 at Canton; and it is to be regretted, for the fame of the author in the Great Western Ocean, that he used provincial and abbreviated characters. I will not complain that by so doing he caused many difficulties to his translator, for a native of Shun tih would not trouble himself on that point; but I have reason to believe that the head schoolmaster of Kwang tung will think it an abomination that Yung lun yuen should dare take such liberties in a historical composition. Schoolmasters have a greater sway in China than any where else, and they like not to be trifled with. These are particularly the men, who, above all others, oppose any innovation or reform; scholars, who presume to know every thing between heaven and earth: and they may certainly satisfy every man, who will rest satisfied by mere words. These learned gentlemen are too much occupied with their own philosophical and literary disquisitions, to have any time, or to think it worth their notice, to pay attention to surrounding empires or nations. If we consider the scanty and foolish notices which are found in recent Chinese publications regarding those nations with which the Chinese should be well acquainted, we cannot but form a very low estimate of the present state of Chinese literature. How far otherwise are the accounts of foreign nations, which are to be found in the great work of Matuanlin! It will, perhaps, be interesting to the European reader to learn, what the Chinese know and report concerning the nations of Ta se yang, or the Great Western Ocean. I therefore take an opportunity here to give some extracts from a Chinese publication relative to European nations, printed last year at Canton.
The fifty-seventh book of the Memoirs concerning the South of the Mei ling Mountains, contains a history of all the Southern barbarians (or foreigners); and here are mentioned—with the Tanka people and other barbarous tribes of Kwang tung and Kwang se—the Siamese, the Mahometans, the French, Dutch, English, Portuguese, Austrians, Prussians, and Americans. The work was published by the command of Yuen, the ex-Governor-General of Canton, who is considered one of the principal living literary characters of China, and it consists chiefly of extracts from the voluminous history of the province Kwang tung, published by his Excellency:—

The Religion of the Hwy hwy, or Mahometans.
“This religion is professed by various sorts of barbarians who live southerly beyond Chen ching (Tséamba, or Zeampa), to the Se yu. Their doctrines originated in the kingdom of Me tih no (Medina). They say that heaven is the origin of all things; they do not use any images. Their country is close to Tëen choo (India); their customs are quite different from those of the Buddhists; they kill living creatures, but they do not eat indiscriminately all that is killed; they eat not hog’s flesh, and this is the essence of the doctrine of Hwy hwy. They have now a foreign pagoda (fan tă), near the temple of the compassionate saint (in Canton), which exists since the time of the Tang. It is of a spiral form, and 163 cubits high.[8] They go every day therein to say prayers.”

By the kindness of Dr. Morrison, the translator had the pleasure to converse with a member of the Mahometan clergy at Canton. He stated, that in the Mosque at Canton is a tablet, whereon it is written, that the religion of the Prophet of Mecca was brought to China, Tang ching yuen san nëen, that is, in the third year of the period called Ching yuen, under the Tang dynasty, i.e. 787 of our era.[9] The compilers of the Memoirs, &c. have taken their extract from the historical work of Ho (4051, M.); they seem not to have any knowledge of Matuanlin, where the Arabs are spoken of under the name of Ta she. See the notes to my translation of the Chronicle of Vahram, p. 76. During the time the translator was at Canton, there arrived a pilgrim from Pekin on his way to Mecca.

The Fa lan se, Francs and Frenchmen.
“The Fa lan se are also called Fo lang se, and now Fo lang ke. In the beginning they adopted the religion of Buddha, but afterwards they received the religion of the Lord of Heaven. They are assembled together and stay in Leu song (Spain?); they strive now very hard with the Hung maou or red-haired people (the Dutch), and the Ying keih le (English); but the Fa lan se have rather the worst of it. These foreigners, or barbarians (e jin) wear white caps and black woollen hats; they salute one another by taking off the hat. Regarding their garments and eating and drinking, they have the same customs as the people of Great Leu song and Small Leu song (Spain and Manilla).”

This extract is taken from the Hwang tsing chĭh kung too, or the Register of the Tribute as recorded under the present dynasty (Memoirs, l. c. p. 10 v., p. 11 r.). I am not sure if Ke tsew (10,869) keu (6,063) Leu song, can really be translated by the words—they are assembled together and stay in Leu song. The use of tsew in the place of tseu (10,826) is confirmed by the authorities in Kang he; but does Leu song really mean Spain? The Philippinas are called Leu song (Luzon), from the island whereon Manilla is, and in opposition to Spain (Ta Leu song, the great L. s.), Seao Leu song, the small Leu song. It may be doubted whether Leu song without Ta, great, can be taken for Spain. The Chinese have moreover learned from Matthæus Ricci the proper name of Spain, and write it She pan ya. The Dutch, the English, and the Germans, are, from a reddish colour of their hair, called Hung maou. This peculiar colour of the hair found among people of German origin, is often spoken of by the ancient Roman authors; as for instance in Tacitus, Germania, c. 4. Juvenal says, Sat. XIII. v. 164,

Cærula quis stupuit Germani lumina? flavam
Cæsariem, et madido torquentem cornua cirro?

It would carry us too far at present to translate the statements of the Chinese concerning the Portuguese and Dutch. Under the head of Se yang, or Portugal, may be read an extract of the account of Europe (Gow lo pa) the Chinese received by Paulus Matthæus Ricci (Le ma paou). The Chinese know that the European Universities are divided into four faculties; and his Excellency Yuen is aware of the great similarity between the ceremonies of the Buddhists and those of the Roman Catholic church (l. c. 17 v). The present Translator of the “History of the Pirates” intends to translate the whole of the 57th book of the often-quoted Memoirs, and to subjoin copious extracts of other works,[Pg xxviii]

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